No More Worksheets

worksheet
This page came about because I belong to many on-line early childhood forums, all too often posts on these forums come from teachers looking for worksheets for their Pre-K or Kindergarten classes.  This deeply saddens me because while that teacher is taking the time to look for worksheets on the internet he or she could be using that time to search the internet for valuable teaching ideas that will benefit their students so much more than a worksheet ever could. I realize that some early childhood teachers may be angered by the implication that worksheets are not good teaching practice or even harmful.  My goal is to provide information only, if they choose to read it they can agree or disagree with my views, but at least they have heard my message.  Maybe if they hear the message enough they will eventually start to listen.

My No More Letter of the Week page that also fits with this theme.

The following is a wonderful article about not using worksheets in the early childhood classroom:

Article: The Worksheet Dilemma by Dr. Sue Grossman

Arguments against using worksheets:

Some of the worksheet quotes below are taken from the article above.

  • “While children may have the ability to perform a task, that does not mean that the task is appropriate and should be performed” Dr. Sue Grossman
  • Worksheets can be used only one way. Worksheets and coloring books are generally considered convergent materials. They lead children to think that there is only a single correct way to use them, and they require little, if any, higher-order thinking.
  • Our goal as professional educators should be lessons that encourage divergent thinking, not convergent thinking.
  • Worksheet-based curricula dampen enthusiasm for learning.
  • If worksheets have a place in the classroom they would be better found in classrooms of older children who have a background for working with symbols and abstractions (Bredekamp, S., 1987; Rosegrant, T., 1992).
  • Worksheets and workbooks should be used in schools only when children are older and developmentally ready to profit from them (Bredekamp, S. & Rosegrant, T., 1992).
  • “Teachers who use worksheets believe they are demonstrating children’s learning progress to parents. Unfortunately worksheet activities are not developmentally appropriate and can cause many problems.” Dr. Sue Grossman.
  • “Worksheets typically have a ‘right answer.’ a child is expected to circle the rhyming words or match the pictures of things that start with the letter ‘G.’ children may learn quickly that putting down a wrong answer is emotionally costly. Worksheet activities may make them feel ignorant and incompetent, so that they learn to stop taking risks by guessing.” Dr. Sue Grossman
  • The mere accomplishment of the worksheet task does not signify the child’s ability to read or comprehend.
  • If worksheets are the answer then why haven’t we replaced teachers with copy machines?
  • “In any group of young children asked to do a paper-pencil task, some will succeed and some will be less successful. The successful children may truly comprehend the task or may simply have guessed correctly. The less successful ones often learn to think of themselves as failures, and ultimately may give up on school and on themselves These children may react to the stress created by fear of giving the wrong answers by acting out their frustrations and becoming behavior problems, or by withdrawing and becoming reclusive.”

If we cannot demonstrate children’s progress with worksheets, how do we provide evidence of learning? Here are several ways:

  • Work Samples
  • Portfolios
  • Observational Records
  • Checklists
  • Appropriate Worksheets: For example, children experimenting with objects to discover if they sink or float can record their observations on paper divided into a float column and a sink column. This shows that they are doing actual scientific experimentation and recording the data.
  • Parent Newsletters: Teachers can send home parent newsletters which explain the activities children are doing at school and the teacher’s goals and objectives. When parents understand the value of developmentally appropriate activities they will feel confident that their children are learning and growing, not “just playing.”
  • Center Labels: Signs in the classroom describing what children learn in the various learning centers help adults understand the value of children’s work in that area.
  • Photographs: Photographs of daily activities in the classroom can be displayed around the room and in hallways. They provide graphic evidence to parents, administrators, and other teachers of children working and learning in a rich, exciting atmosphere.

Below are some common misconceptions about the use of worksheets in the classroom.

“If the kids are choosing the worksheets, there is no problem. It can’t be wrong if the kids enjoy it, are learning from it, and doing it through their own motivation.”

FALSE. Children do not always know what is best for them, just because they like something is not an indication that it is good for them. How many times have your students come to school dressed inappropriately for the weather or chosen to eat candy for lunch rather than the sandwich their mother packed for them? Because children do not know what is best for them, that is why we, as educators must purposefully prepare appropriate materials and activities for our students instead of just copying off another worksheet, that is a cop-out in my opinion. As trained professionals in the field of education it is our duty to teach our students to the best of our ability and keep their best interests in mind while doing so. If we do not do that then we are cheapening the profession and adding to the already tarnished image teachers hold in this country.

If I put out apples and a big bowl of candy for snack the majority of my students would choose the candy, but as a professional educator I would never put out the bowl of candy because I know it’s not good for them. I would have to peel and slice the apples to get the kids to eat them, it would be more work for me, but the apples are better for them than the candy so that is what I would do. The same holds true for worksheets, I know that there are better ways to teach so I don’t offer worksheets to my students so they aren’t faced with making a choice between an appropriate and inappropriate activity.

“It’s all about balance. You can use worksheets if you balance it out with other hands-on types of activities. A little bit of something can’t hurt.”

FALSE. Balance? Balance what? It’s o.k. to have a balance of inappropriate and appropriate activities in your classroom? So some parts of the day the children are receiving appropriate instruction and other parts they are not? That statement just doesn’t make sense. If worksheets are inappropriate then why is a “little bit” of anything inappropriate o.k.?

“Worksheets are good for developing fine motor writing skills and introducing students to following written directions”

FALSE. Following written directions? I find this statement very disturbing because preschoolers and kindergarteners can’t read, how can they be following any written directions? “The mere accomplishment of the worksheet task does not signify the child’s ability to read or comprehend.”

As for the fine motor part of the statement, there are many more appropriate types of activities children can be doing to develop their fine motor skills than doing a worksheet, again, I find this to be a cop out. It’s easier to copy a worksheet and slap it on the table in front of the student rather than carefully planning out activities that will really engage them and develop their fine motor abilities at the same time. Here is just one list I have found helpful: Fine Motor Skills My kids love to use plastic tongs or small strawberry hullers to put brightly colored pom-poms into egg cartons, this activity is one of the most popular in my classroom. Sometimes they try to pattern the pom-poms in the carton, other times they make rows of all one color. This activity is great for fine motor development but they are getting so much more out of it than they ever would a worksheet.

“Kids don’t ‘do well’ academically when worksheets aren’t used”

FALSE. When students are struggling academically the first thing that needs to be examined is teaching practice, we cannot blame academic failure on the lack of worksheets. I have seen situations where teachers were relying heavily on worksheets and then they became “forbidden”, the result was an academic drop in the students because the teachers didn’t know how to teach without using worksheets. The first thing that any educational institution should do before “banning” worksheet use is to make sure the teachers know how to teach without them.

“My kids beg for worksheets because they want to be like their older siblings and do “real” homework. There’s nothing wrong with sending a few worksheets home, it’s not like we’re not doing them at school”

FALSE. When we send worksheets home for “homework” we are sending the message to parents that worksheets are the way that young children learn best. Most parents are not professional educators, it’s our job to not only do what is best for our students but to also educate their parents about what is best as well, if we don’t then who will?

Many parents don’t know any other way to help their children at home other than worksheets and workbooks. For this reason we hold a “Homework Night” early in the school year every year to educate our parents about how they can help their children at home. Our presentation includes information on how worksheets are not appropriate for young children and why. We explain that worksheets teach children that there is only one right answer and they do not allow children to think for themselves. We explain how writing on paper with lines (two solid and a dotted line in the middle) is not appropriate for certain ages and why (visual accuity, fine motor not developed enough, creates frustration and lack of desire to write etc) We also tell parents that there is a difference between their young child and older siblings and how older children are more developmentally ready to profit from using worksheets occasionally. Then, we introduce our homework program and show the parents specific ways they can help their children at home each night.

“I need to use worksheets because they need the practice for kindergarten, that’s what they’ll be doing in kindergarten”

FALSE. My job as a professional educator is to help each child be as successful as possible in my classroom. “I will not prepare my students for inappropriate practices by doing inappropriate things in my own class.” – Karen Cox, Prekinders.com

If worksheets are what they’re doing in Kindergarten then perhaps the teaching practices in those classrooms need to be examined. This is how the worksheet cycle perpetuates itself, one teacher or grade level relies heavily on worksheets for instruction and then all the other grades/teachers fall in behind them at the copy machine. I challenge teachers everywhere to break the worksheet cycle and actually teach young children instead of occupying them with worksheets. It’s just like peer pressure in high school, don’t let yourself fall victim to it.

Resources:

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